New cafe bars, touring cars and proms in the park – Howle Communications’​ review of the year

It’s time to celebrate a fantastic year for our clients as we look back at award winners, café bar openings and lots of business growth.

For transparency, please note that all work for the Donna Louise Hospice referred to is unpaid.


2019 kicked off in style as Stoke City announced that they had appointed Graphix as the club’s first Official Print and Signage Supplier –

Leading Staffordshire recruitment agency Appointments Personnel celebrated a successful 20 years in business.

Appointments Personnel started life with just a three-strong team and at a time when the global economy was in recession.

Over two decades, Appointments Personnel has worked closely with hundreds of businesses, primarily within North Staffordshire and South Cheshire, and the firm has grown a reputation as a trusted advisor, connecting local companies with the right candidates for jobs time after time.

Meanwhile, we reported that cancer research champion Ada Haywood had been presented with a British Empire Medal at a ceremony hosted by the Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire Ian Dudson, at County Buildings, Stafford. Ada, from Clayton, has raised over £1m for Cancer Research UK.

Training providers Now U Know celebrated with a new office for the new year as they hatched plans to grow their business based at the Lymedale Business Centre.

January ended with a celebration as BNI Staffordshire threw a party to mark a record breaking 12 months during which almost £7.5 million of revenue has been generated for the local economy.

Winners included member of the year, Matthew Dashper-Hughes; Best Newcomer, John Capper; Most Visitors, Darren Fortune; Highest Average Referral Value, Nigel Ryan; Most New Members generated, Stephenie Altham and Dave Meigh; Most High Value Referrals, Ian Walker, Most Thank You for the Business; Ian Walker; Training and Development, joint winners Matthew Dashper-Hughes and Stephenie Altham; Most Improved Member, jointly awarded to Emily Handy and Alex Jackson; Unsung Hero, Graham Tomlinson; Commitment to Growth and Change, David Meigh; Emerald Award, Stephenie Altham; Special Recognition Award, Andrew Plumley; Chapter of the Year, BNI at 10.

A special Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Peter Brown of Dean Statham Chartered Accountants, Newcastle-under-Lyme.


February’s highlight involved a fantastic link between a small Staffordshire hi-tech company and the government from South Korean’s most populated region. Enlighten AR, from Tamworth, is well known for producing cutting edge augmented reality systems in the education and health sectors. Inward investment leaders from Gyeonggi Provincial Government and Pyeongtaek City visited Staffordshire for three days as guests of Enlighten.

They held talks with council leaders, the Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce, the county’s Local Enterprise Partnership, the West Midlands Smart Cities Alliance and Staffordshire University. Howle Communications arranged for BBC Midlands Today to film the visit to the university.

A Newcastle-under-Lyme lettings agent has been crowned as the best in town after coming out on top in a series of mystery caller challenges. Applied Lets scooped a Gold medal in the British Property Awards following an independent assessment of the town’s agents.

New services, contract wins, and new recruits has set Stoke-based BPA Safety up for further growth in 2019.

Well known as a trusted source of Health and Safety advice for companies across the UK, BPA has now added HR expertise to its service offer.


Demand for high class short term lets from professional business executives and senior hospital staff together with an innovative approach to property management is adding up to growth and jobs for Newcastle-under-Lyme based HMO Property Management.

Company owner Matt Hubbard was looking for new good quality properties following a surge in demand from hospital consultants and business professionals looking for superior accommodation across North Staffordshire.

There was fantastic news for Staffordshire brewing brothers, Keith and Dave Bott, owners of Titanic Brewery as they were honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Sentinel Business Awards. A celebration pint at the White Star, Stoke, followed the awards evening at the Kings Hall.

A two-year rebranding project devised to reflect the growth of Legionella safety experts SAS Water Ltd has culminated in the launch of a new corporate website.

The Leek based business has expanded its team and added additional plumbing services and introduced an innovative range of education and training courses to reflect a growing awareness of water safety issues. The company has a bold vision to become the UK’s leading Legionnaires’ Disease and Water Treatment Specialist and has plans for growth of around 30 per cent in 2019.

Managing Director Lizzie Ward said major investment in marketing services reflected the growth of SAS Water. It has provided work for local North Staffordshire companies, led by Graphix, based in Norton.


In April, Howle Communications got involved in publicising the Butterflies campaign for the Donna Louise Hospice for children and young people. Taking Flight, an inspiring temporary installation made up of 5,000 ceramic butterflies took centre stage at Trentham Gardens from late May until early November and each intricately made butterfly was available to buy with all funds raised benefitting The Donna Louise Hospice for Children & Young People. The project was the result of a superb collaborative effort by the local business community. The butterflies were crafted by two major names in Stoke-on-Trent’s ceramics industry, Wade Ceramics and Johnson Tiles, while Valentine Clays supplied the clay.

Many other firms were involved in making Taking Flight possible, these included Tile Mountain (main sponsor), Johnson Tiles, Wade Ceramics, KMF, Valentine Clays, The Trentham Estate, PM Training, Advanced Packaging, Strategi Solutions, Miller and Co., Inspired Film and Video, Joanne Hine, Campbell Creative Consulting, Staffordshire University, Paul Williams, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, DPD, Red Industries, My Clever Group, QPS, Gladman Developments, Blakemans. Rydale Roofing, Franklyn Financial Management, Holdcroft Heating, Envisage, Enlighten, Geens Chartered Accountants.

A unique drinks festival, celebrating independent business, was held in Crewe in April. Berries Beans & Beer brought together great beer, cider, gin, rum, wine and coffee, celebrates local music and adds in good food from local suppliers. “There is so much high-quality craft and artisan business in the area and it is a privilege to bring it together in a two-day festival,” said organiser Michelle Shipman.

Continuing the food and drinks theme, Titanic Brewery unveiled its third bod café bar on 29 April. Around £300,000 was invested in creating a stylish new café bar at the former NatWest Bank premises in Trentham.


Pensions expert Richard Jacobs marked a special anniversary in May, celebrating 40 years as a Chartered practitioner. Richard founded Richard Jacobs Pensions and Trustee Services in 1992 and has presided over continuous growth, from a sole practitioner firm to a team of nine, based in modern offices at Brindley Court, Lymedale Business Park. He has gained a reputation as a leading expert on pensions and has authored many articles advising on pensions for national newspapers and the BBC.

May also saw us highlight the partnership between Norton-based company Graphix and a major motor racing team. Graphix are among the sponsors for Team Toyota GB in the British Touring Car Championship, while also working hard on the team’s branding. Steve Ward of Graphix explained: “Alongside the thrill of the race, there’s an awful lot of work for our team at Graphix. We have completed the Team Toyota GB branding, hospitality branding, signage for the pit lane and for the Team Toyota GB race trucks & garages at each track. The BTCC has three races at each event and they get through a lot of kit as the touring car series is well known for its close quarters racing, so we have to provide three fully branded body kits for each round.”

Team Toyota GB returned to the Kwik Fit sponsored British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) in 2019 with the all new Toyota Corolla and main sponsors, Ginsters and Hansford Sensors. The car manufacturer is competing in partnership with Northwich based Speedworks Motorsport and team driver Tom Ingram, a two-time BTCC independent champion.


Preparation began in June for the popular Proms and Prosecco in the Park event to be held at Chetwynd Deer Park, Newport, Shropshire. We were delighted to resume a partnership with Fizz Festivals on the event, launching publicity by unveiling the 2019 headliners, Jon Moss, fresh from playing Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar at the o2 London, and Classical Reflection, who first impressed on TV programme The Voice and have since received a Classical Brit nomination.

BNI Staffordshire were celebrating in June, taking home the Outstanding Performance Award at the BNI UK and Ireland conference. BNI Staffordshire showed huge growth in 2018/2019 and supports over 200 businesses in the county.

Meanwhile, family run Aynsley Insurance, a company with long associations to BNI, was celebrating 30 years of business. Based in the heart of the city centre, in Piccadilly, Hanley, Aynsley has grown to cover all aspects of business and personal insurance.


Ten years of Business Boost success was celebrated as past winners are invited to the 2019 launch at Newcastle-under-Lyme’s historic Guildhall. Business Boost rewards growing businesses across the borough, giving business development advice and cash prizes to support future success. Nigel, of Howle Communications is proud to be amongst business owners who give their time for free to promote the success of local companies through Business Boost.

Award winning photographer Joanna Wilkinson saw her work showcased at an unusual venue – a busy maternity unit at Leighton Hospital, Crewe. Jo, of Toland Photography, is an acclaimed new born baby and maternity photography, and donated her work to help staff to make the maternity unit an inviting place.

Event management experts PH Production Services unveiled their support for the development of women’s football by sponsoring two Crewe Alexandra midfielders. The company announced that they were officially backing Becky Garner and Shanice Finbow for the 2019/2020 season.

Titanic Brewery acquired an historic Derbyshire pub as it continued to expand its estate across the Midlands region. The Old Poets’ Corner, Ashover, is a multi-award-winning pub, which also features B&B rooms and an historic holiday cottage.

It is located in a much-prized countryside setting, just a few miles from Chatsworth House.

Excellent customer service standards saw Staffordshire company FunkyWunky DooDahs Inspired Designed Interiors scoop an international interior design award. Run by Sandra Johnson, the Gaol Mews, Stafford, company won a Best of Houzz award. The Stafford interior design firm was singled-out for customer service excellence following an assessment of feedback from the 40 million-plus monthly unique users that comprise the Houzz community.

Independent travel agent John Lehnert announced he was embarking on a journey of a lifetime while raising much needed cash for Burslem based charity Helping Angels.

John, who trades under the Not Just Travel brand, planned a trek to the lost city of Teyuna, Colombia, and declared himself off the beer as he began his training. John completed the trek in late summer.


Entrepreneur Dave Gardner announced he was launching a new company, using his business skills to help others. The new company Launch Control, a ‘Business in a Box’ service to guide fledgling company owners through all the actions needed in the business set up stage.

Dave, of Hilderstone, has founded several busineses before selling them as going concerns.

August also saw Howle Communications feature the growth of GRN Financial Services. Founded by husband and wife Aga and Tom Gronkiewicz is gearing up for growth after moving to town centre offices in Bath Street, Leek.

The Donna Louise Hospice butterflies campaign gathered pace as hospice fundraisers set up a pop up shop at Trentham Gardens to reach visitors during the summer holidays.


Late summer saw us highlighting the redevelopment of the historic Phoenix Works, Longton, as a commercial space. Developer Mark Milner has spent a decade completing phase one of a project which has seen half of a disused former pottery factory transformed into a space for offices, retail and a café.

Mark, the owner of Kirklands Properties Ltd, believes that more than a million pounds in cash, time and labour has gone into creating a mixed-use complex featuring offices and retail space, including a Portmeirion Pottery factory outlet, the Period Property Store, Yes Lease, Centiel UK, Phoenix Home Interiors and the Glost House café.

Now he’s gearing up for round two as a virtually identical space of around 2,000 sq. ft. remains undeveloped.

The Phoenix Works was built by Thomas Forester in 1881 and became a major producer of Majolica. It was bought by the Milner family in 1961 and became home to a community of small pot banks. Much trade ceased in the 1980s and 1990s and the building fell on hard times, before Mark embarked on his ambitious renovation plans.

North Staffordshire may have missed out on its recent City of Culture bid, but Newcastle-under-Lyme company PH Productions won a contract as Coventry gears up to its 2021 celebration.

PH Productions was commissioned to work with Producer Phil Hargreaves to stage HOME, a new high-flying production showcasing Coventry’s architecture in a collaboration between Coventry-based Highly Sprung and circus theatre pioneers Upswing.

Titanic Brewery revealed a 5-year plan to roll out its successful bod café bar concept as the finishing touches were made to the fourth bod bar. A new bod café bar opened on the High Street, Newport, Shropshire, on Monday, 9 September. Created in a former NatWest Bank, the Newport bod is set to create 20 jobs and follows the success of the first three Titanic café bars in Stafford and Stoke-on-Trent.

A survey by Appointments Personnel gave an insight into how perks and benefits are important to workplace morale. An overwhelming 92% of employees surveyed told Appointments Personnel that the benefit of flexible and personalised packages would influence future decisions when hunting for a job.

62% of employees said that an increase or revamp of benefits would increase the likelihood of them staying with their current employer.

Leading fire door specialists Washington & Riley were in the news twice in September. The Burslem firm responded magnificently when local charity the Furniture Mine suffered major damage to a fire door in a break in. They quickly sent around tradesmen who supplied and fitted not one but two new fire doors.

The company also launched an initiative to help the environment. Washington & Riley offered to plant a tree in the National Forest for every fire door fitted in an offer which they christened Buy One, Get One Tree!


Norton-based Graphix created a sparkling new image for Moorland Contract Cleaning as the firm evolved into the MC Group to reflect growth and an increase in service.

Rising awareness of the destructive properties of Japanese Knotweed led to North Staffordshire company Japanese Knotweed Expert Ltd growing its team. The company has gone from three to 10 staff in recent times, with further growth set to take the team up to 15 by 2021.

In just one day this Summer, the Fenton and Barlaston-based experts surveyed or treated 12 sites affected by the plant.

Tamworth Augmented Reality specialists Enlighten AR took top spot in a Midlands wide list of tech innovators. The company was ranked number 1 by Business Cloud magazine.


The end of autumn saw the Taking Flight installation at Trentham Gardens come down with the ceramic butterflies being cleaned and boxed, ready to be sent to a new home.

Charity fundraising champion Ada Haywood BEM enlisted the local business community in an ambitious bid to collect a mile of 20 pence pieces.

Ada, of Clayton, who was recognised by the Queen for raising over £1 million for Cancer Research UK, embarked on her latest challenge with the support of BNI networking groups in North Staffordshire. A mile of 20p pieces will raise £16,000 and Ada plans to split the funds between Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation.

Visual effects and animation specialists Carse and Waterman once again saw their work showcased on TV after winning contracts for programmes to be shown on Sky One and BBC2.

The Stoke-based company was selected to reproduce the iconic bullet-dodging scene from the Matrix by the producers of Sky One comedy TV show, There’s Something About Movies and also worked on VFX for award-winning dark comedy Inside No. 9 on BBC2.

Reviews from brides and grooms resulted in a North Staffordshire wedding photographer being shortlisted for a prestigious award. Joanna Wilkinson, owner of Toland Photography, was one of just seven finalists in the English Wedding Awards West Midlands photographer of the year competition.

The Newcastle-under-Lyme Business Boost competition unveiled its 2019 winners.

A diverse range of finalists took to the stage for the awards event held at Newcastle-under-Lyme College’s Performing Arts Centre.

The major winners were:

·        Entrepreneurial Spirit; Sempar Accountancy

·        Going for Growth; Alt-D web and software development

·        Flying Solo; il Capo Barbiere

·        BID Future Boost; Newcastle Pet Supplies.

Each company received a cash prize of £1,500 to spend on developing their business.

A live music show, described as North Staffordshire’s answer to Later with Jools Holland, embarked on a new season, starting in mid-November.

HoneyBox showcases the area’s music scene and is filmed live at King Street Studios, Newcastle-under-Lyme. Each show is streamed live on Facebook.

A film production company named among the best in Britain was celebrating 15 years in business during November.

Reels in Motion is flying the flag for Stoke-on-Trent and competing with big city film studios in London and the South East. Its five year plan aims to more than double their staff and achieve a £5 million-plus turnover by Reels in Motion’s 20th anniversary.

Founded by Matt Hubbard, Phil Bland and Joe Gordon in 2004, Reels in Motion is the only Staffordshire-based business to get recognised in the prestigious Top 50 Production Companies, compiled by Televisual Magazine.


A training provider celebrated a landmark year after investing in new offices in Newcastle-under-Lyme. Stepping Stones Education and Training has passed its external Ofsted examination and Matrix reassessment in Autumn 2019 and has a growing portfolio of clients across Staffordshire and beyond.

Stafford town centre based Carthy Accountants welcomed its latest recruit. Vikki Miles brought the Carthy team to 18, having more than doubled in size in the past two years.

Animation experts at Carse & Waterman have added to the magic of Christmas by bringing the world-renowned Trentham Gardens fairies to life. The award winning Stoke-based animators have partnered with Junction 15, another local film company, on a festive advertisement for Trentham Gardens.

An historic community run pub completed a major refurbishment in time for Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations.

The bar at the 19th century White Hart, Alton, has been reinstated into its original position at the centre of the pub as part of an improvement project by the White Hart community trust. An historic community run pub is going back to the future with a refurbishment in time for Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Moving the bar also opened-up a fireplace and this has been transformed into an attractive stone fireplace housing a wood burning stove. Work was also carried-out to paint the bar areas and improve the building’s electrics.

Dog lover and professional photographer Cathy Bower challenged owners of rescue dogs to celebrate their furry friends and help to give less fortunate residents of the City Dogs Home, Stoke-on-Trent a Christmas treat.

Cathy, of Leek, asked people who have adopted a rescue dog to get in touch and share their stories about what makes their dog special, detailing what difference the pet has made to their home life or family. Entrants were placed in a draw to win photoshoots.

Customers and staff at Titanic Brewery pubs and bod café bars have collected more than 230 presents for children in need of a boost this Christmas. The Stoke-on- Trent brewery launched its Christmas Giving Tree Appeal in early December and have been overwhelmed by the generosity of local residents.

Deliveries of toys have been made to Staffordshire Women’s Aid, the Gingerbread Centre and Warrior Fitness Food Bank.